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Reverse Osmosis Systems

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Reverse Osmosis Systems

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A reverse osmosis system uses a booster pump to force water through sediment and carbon filters and a semi-permeable RO membrane that removes TDS from water.


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What is a reverse osmosis system and how does it improve drinking water?

A reverse osmosis (RO) system reduces dissolved or suspended contaminants in water using pressure to push the unfiltered water, or brine, through a semipermeable membrane. The reverse osmosis membrane blocks the contaminants, and the clean water, or permeate, flows through to the less concentrated side. RO systems are used in homes and industries where high-quality water with low TDS (dissolved solids) is required.

A semipermeable RO membrane has small pores or tiny holes that block contaminants but allow water molecules to flow through. When water with a higher concentration of dissolved solids is pushed against the membrane, the osmosis process is reversed. The contaminants remain on the concentrated side while clean water flows through the membrane into the less concentrated side.

Learn more about how reverse osmosis works

Browse all water filtration systems.

How does the reverse osmosis membrane work?

The RO membrane is the primary filtering media, but an RO system doesn’t strictly filter by reverse osmosis. Different types of filtration are included in the process. Every reverse osmosis water system contains a sediment filter and a carbon filter in addition to the RO membrane. The filters are called either prefilters or postfilters depending on whether water passes through them before or after it goes through the membrane. The number of prefilters or postfilters added to an RO system determine the number of stages. A 4-stage RO system is the best option to filter city supply water entering your home.

It’s possible for filtered RO water to build up slime, biofilm, and other particles while in the storage tank. You can sanitize your storage tank with the Sani-System kit. 5-stage systems include a polishing filter that gives drinking water one last pass through carbon on the way to the faucet or ice maker to remove tastes, odors, and slime.

Why use a reverse osmosis water system?

A reverse osmosis water system is much more than just a filter. Reverse osmosis combines filtration with dissolved solids reduction for a full spectrum of contaminant removal. Of the types of membrane filtration (reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, and microfiltration), reverse osmosis is the most extensive. Most residential RO systems require no electricity needed to operate. Instead, the system runs on water pressure.

Under-sink and Commercial RO systems

Residential RO systems are point-of-use (POU), designed for installation under a sink in your home or office. Under-sink systems provide RO water to your faucet and refrigerator. An adapter kit, consisting of a couple of fittings, tubing, and a valve, allows you to run RO water to your refrigerator ice maker or ice machine.

Commercial RO systems are available for high water volume needs, from 200 to 7,000 gallons per day. These systems need greater water pressure to filter water with high concentrations of dissolved solids. Commercial RO systems operate at fast flow rates, and elements like iron, calcium, or magnesium may hinder productions or damage the system. Proper steps must be taken to pre-treat the feed water before reverse osmosis filtration to avoid system failure.

Where to use a commercial RO system:

  • • Seawater desalination
  • • Car wash rinsing
  • • Restaurant beverages
  • • Boiler pre-treatment
  • • Grocery produce misting
  • • Ice machines
  • • Aquarium tanks
  • • Steamers
  • • Greenhouses
  • • Electronics production
  • • Bottled water
  • • Maple syrup
  • • Whole house solutions
  • • Dairy condensing

How to maintain a reverse osmosis water system

With proper maintenance, a reverse osmosis system should last many years. Over time, however, O-rings and internal components may eventually stop working or leak. It's a good idea to evaluate a systems condition after 10 years of service.

  • • Replace your RO water filters every 6 months to 1 year.
  • • Replace your RO membrane every 2-4 years.

If your system isn’t working properly, our RO troubleshooting guide will help you find the problem and tell you how to fix it.

Which reverse osmosis system is best for your home?

Most POU reverse osmosis systems function the same given the same operating conditions. Which RO system is best for you depends on which feature you prefer—easy maintenance, compact structure, sleek design, or cost of filter replacements.

Here’s our expert guide on how to select the best RO system.

The following questions will help you decide which RO system is right for you.

Do you need reverse osmosis?

Reverse osmosis is one of the most thorough filtration systems when removing contaminants, but your water may not require such a high level of filtration. You should conduct a water test and determine what’s in your water. An RO system strips water of minerals and reduces many contaminants, but it does not remove certain bacteria or viruses. If you need your water purified of waterborne pathogens, then a UV system may be right for you. If you want to receive extensive filtration while retaining minerals, then you may prefer an ultrafiltration system.

Where do you need your water treated?

A residential reverse osmosis system is a point-of-use system, which means that you install it right where you need RO water. Most RO systems install directly under your sink. Whole house reverse osmosis systems are available but are rarely used because they require a large booster pump to supply enough pressure to every point in your house. If you’re on well water contaminated with heavy metals like arsenic, then you may need a UV system to disinfect the water once it leaves the storage tank. If you need to treat the water throughout your home, browse all our whole house filtration system options.

A reverse osmosis water system removes:

  • • Fluoride
  • • Salt
  • • Sediment
  • • Minerals
  • • Chlorine
  • • Arsenic
  • • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • • Herbicides
  • • Pesticides
  • • Many other dissolved solids

Do you need a 3, 4, or 5 stage RO system?

The more stages your reverse osmosis system has, the more extensive the pre and post-treatment. The RO membrane does most of the work removing dissolved solids, but additional prefilters and postfilters can polish, re-mineralize, and provide additional chlorine and sediment removal. Eventually, the membrane wears out, but prefilters give an initial pass through filter media to help extend the life of the membrane. A 5-stage RO system includes a polishing filter after membrane filtration that enhances water on the way to the faucet.

Learn more about the different stages of a reverse osmosis system.

Things to consider when buying an RO system

Do you have backflow prevention?

A reverse osmosis water system cross-connects to the drinking water line and the drain line. Plumbing code requires that cross-connections have backflow prevention to eliminate the possibility of dirty drain water getting into the clean drinking water side. An air-gap faucet helps prevent backflow in a POU reverse osmosis system. If you install an RO system without an air-gap faucet, you will have to create another way to prevent backflow.

Learn how to fix an air gap leak.

Should you add a permeate pump to your RO system?

Does a reverse osmosis system waste water? A reverse osmosis system is not the most efficient system. After an RO system filters contaminants, it sends them to the drain with a significant amount of water. However, this water is not wasted since it serves a role in removing contaminants, but the RO system’s efficiency increases if you add a permeate pump. A permeate pump reduces the RO water sent to the drain by 85%.

Learn how a permeate pump works.

Do you need an RO booster pump?

A reverse osmosis system runs on home water pressure. Your water pressure may need an extra boost to provide adequate flow from the system to your faucet. An RO booster pump increases water pressure for RO membrane filtration.

Do you need a water softener?

A reverse osmosis water system removes all mineral content from water, including calcium and magnesium that make water hard. But an RO system is not designed to function as a water softener. If you have hard water, you’ll need to soften it before the reverse osmosis process. Using an RO system to treat hard water will decrease the lifespan of your membrane.

Is a reverse osmosis system worth it?

A reverse osmosis system’s worth is best described by the reasons why you want or need one. Reverse osmosis removes nearly 95% of particles and dissolved contaminants from drinking water. It does this through a natural process using simply the force of household water pressure without any chemical additives. Your beverages, ice, recipes, and drinking water are all enhanced with RO water.

Reverse Osmosis System Reviews

Here’s what a guest had to say about his reverse osmosis water system:

Excellent System | Great Value

“The Neo-Pure RO 4300RX is a fantastic filter system and a great bargain. The specialist spent nearly an hour on the phone helping me to understand the product before purchasing, and their customer service was very helpful in answering my post-installation questions. I'm not a plumber but I was able to install the system myself in a few hours, and we are quite satisfied with the product.”

-- Fred T.

Browse residential reverse osmosis systems by brand: Neo-Pure | Pentair | 3M

Browse commercial reverse osmosis systems by brand: Axeon | Toray | Suez Water (GE)